Friday, October 2, 2009

No OIL in Afghanistan

OIL and the Iraq War

Back in 2007, I posted Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL), agreeing with Alan Greenspan that "The Iraq war is largely about oil ..."
The original name of the operation, was "Operation Iraqi Liberation". That spells out the acronym "OIL".

In my 2007 posting, I linked to the White House website where, on March 24, 2003, Ari Fleisher, President George W. Bush's Press Secretary, is quoted as saying: "The President this morning has spoken with three foreign leaders. He began with Prime Minister Blair, where the two discussed the ongoing aspects of Operation Iraqi liberation." [Emphasis added.]

The name was soon changed to "Operation Iraqi Freedom" - "OIF" and statements were made that Iraq was not about "blood for oil". The 2003 White House posting was available at the time of my 2007 Blog item, but it has since been taken down.

Of course, OIL was not the only reason for the Iraq War. It was certainly important to depose a terrible and dangerous dictator who had used chemical weapons in the past against his own people and who we thought had or intended to get a nuclear weapons program. So, liberation of Iraq and setting up something like democracy were important reasons for the war.

My 2007 Blog posting was written before the surge where Gen. Petraeus used a healthy helping of additional US troops and established the conditions that have allowed the current partial withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. I believe history will conclude our actions in Iraq were justified to assure a level of stability in a country that has a large percentage of the world's oil. The Iraq War was necessary for the stability and progress of the world's economy and for something like peace in a historically turbulent region.

Afghanistan Has No OIL

"Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan" (OEF-A) is the official name for our military action in Afghanistan. (The original name was "Operation Infinite Justice" which offended those who believe the source of "infinite justice" is God.)

According to Wikipedia, "The initial military objectives of OEF-A, as articulated by Former President George W. Bush in his Sept. 20th [2001] Address to a Joint Session of Congress and his Oct. 7th [2001] address to the country, included the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure within Afghanistan, the capture of al Queda leaders, and the cessation of terrorist activities in Afghanistan." Multi-national military action began in 2002, just a year after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US mainland.

The Bush administration has been criticized for emphasizing military action in Iraq, which had little or nothing to do with 9/11, rather than in Afghanistan where the Taliban allowed Al Queda to train the terrorists responsible for 9/11. The Obama administration is now being asked by the commander, Gen. McChrystal, to deploy tens of thousands of additional troops there and repeat an Afghan version of Gen. Petraeus's Iraq surge. As in Iraq, the generals say we need US "boots on the ground" to gain and hold territory.

After much reading and consideration, I have come to the conclusion the US should not greatly increase troop strength now. We should revert to the previous Bush administration policy of a "light footprint" that defends key population centers and uses mainly airborne strikes to prevent the Taliban and whatever remnants of Al Queda remain in Afghanistan from making too much progress. Given the terrain, population and history of Afghanistan, there is nothing to be gained by adding more US blood to that already left by the British in the 1800's and the Russians more recently.

I think history will eventually recognize that the Bush strategy of a relatively low-level war in Afghanistan, where our allies took a large percentage of the responsibility, was correct. Those of you who have played chess know it is sometimes safer to hold back and exercise force from a distance, using your Rooks, Bishops and the Queen on clear diagonals and columns, rather than commit your pawns and Knights to a "boots on the ground" attack.

Iraq, a strategic source of oil, required both boots on the ground and airpower. Afghanistan, especially now that we have unmanned air vehicles capable of pinpoint attacks, should be addressed mostly with remote airpower. I believe VP Biden has been advocating a position similar to mine and that Obama will eventually accept that policy.

Lots of OIL in IRAN

I hope it does not come down to it, but, if Iran continues to build its nuclear weapons program, the US and our allies will have to take military action of some sort. That country has a large percentage of the world's supply of oil and it is therefore important to keep it stable and peaceful.

But, Iran is not Iraq. There is a considerable level of well-organized internal opposition to the current leadership and the Ayatollahs are not crazy. Perhaps we can persuade the Iranians to take a more reasonable approach. With the cooperation of the Russians and French, Iran can have a peaceful nuclear power program and we can have guarantees it is not directed at nuclear weapons.

Ira Glickstein

26 comments:

JohnS said...

         Ira, you said, “Given the terrain, population and history of Afghanistan, there is nothing to be gained by adding more US blood to that already left by the British in the 1800's and the Russians more recently”. You are correct; however, you then followed with, “I think history will eventually recognize that the Bush strategy of a relatively low-level war in Afghanistan, where our allies took a large percentage of the responsibility, was correct.” And you go on to say, “Afghanistan, especially now that we have unmanned air vehicles capable of pinpoint attacks, should be addressed mostly with remote airpower.”
         I do not believe your last two comments are practical for several reasons.
         First, there is no effective central government.
         Second, tribal leaders rule the countryside.
         Third, it is a poor, backward, nation whose people are mainly uneducated.
         Fourth, its principle trade is in heroin.
         Fifth, where are the unmanned air vehicles going to be based? If they are based within Afghanistan, a substantial number of American boots on the ground will be needed to protect them, the airfields, and the convoy’s routes resupplying them.
         Sixth, if the American troops confine themselves to guarded camps, safe from attack, they will not be able to gather intelligence.
         Seventh, if we conduct unmanned aircraft attacks, even with the best of intelligence, and civilians are killed the media will have a field day.
         Eighth, our allies are becoming more and more reluctant to continue their support.
         Ninth, if we eradicate Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, they will move somewhere else and then we will fight somewhere else.
         Tenth, in a recent issue of Reason magazine an article pointed out that the state department is abandoning its attempt to eradicate the heroin production. More heroin is becoming available now than before their effort started. This points out the difficulty of solving anything there.
         We must be realistic, as you pointed out neither the British nor the Russians were able to conquer or control Afghanistan, why do we think we can? Are we so na├»ve? Unfortunately, I think so. Reality, our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the terrorist attacks throughout the world should tell us that we are not going to solve terrorism by fighting in Afghanistan.

SEE CONTINUING COMMENT

JohnS said...

         Is there a solution? Unfortunately no, or rather there is no easy quick solution. Terrorism, Islamic hatred against the developed world, hatred against America prevents a rapid solution. We must be in for the long haul. However, if we are going to be in the fight for the long haul we must realistically appraise the situation. We cannot afford the cost in troops and dollars to continue the fight overseas. The Iraq war has already strained the economy and Afghanistan will continue to do so. I believe we must abandon the idea of fighting terrorism overseas.
         Which obviously means we must secure our nation from terrorism, not only from outside terrorists but also within. But, are we willing to do so? Are we fighting overseas because we are reluctant to face the political landmines blocking us from securing our nation? I wonder, I suspect we are, also, I suspect those in Washington are fearful of losing face as the greatest nation ever –at least in their opinion.
         I believe if a serious cost to benefit study was done to determine whether it is more effective to protect ourselves from terrorism by fighting overseas or securing our nation internally, the study would clearly show it would be more beneficial to secure ourselves internally.
         So why do we continue? I don’t know. It would be beneficial economical if we return the hundreds of thousands of our troops throughout the world. It would benefit and lessen the stress on our National Guard. However, serious questions arise, some affecting our allies and some we have attempted to address but failed politically.
          Has homeland security worked effectively? They seem to. We’ve had not any effective attacks since 911. We hear of planned attacks being foiled and people arrested. We probably have to be more vigilant at our ports and other points of entry. We probably have to be more vigilant amongst dissidents. However, these do not seem to be impossible problems. Let’s continue the debate.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks John for your comments. I agree with much of what you write, but I think you have fallen into the trap of "all-in or all-out".

There is a middle ground and the Bush "ligbt footprint" policy in Afghanistan was on the right track.

Yes, not having troops in the field will reduce our intelligence ability, but we now have unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that were not available five years ago that can gather intelligence and also hit targets with precision. Yes there is no stable national government in Afghanistan and I doubt there will be in my lietime. Never-the-less, with minimum loss of American and allied lives, we can hold and defend major population centers and, with UAVs and high-flying aircraft, we can exercise force from a distance.

I think it is impossible to make a fortress America and protect the USA from terrorism without fundamentally changing the freedoms we enjoy and cherish. We have already given up some freedoms and privacy by allowing the government to monitor phone calls and emails. You and I are subjected to degrading inspections and x-ray surveillance at airports. The FBI recruits informants in places of religious prayer. I have favored these changes but do not want to go much farther.

We must retain the ability and will to exercise power to disrupt terrorist training camps around the world. We must be willing to punish countries that support or tolerate terrorists. That sometimes requires putting our armed forces -boots on the ground- in dangerous places. But, let us do that as a last resort and only if we cannot exercise power from the air. And let us do that only in places of strategic importance.

Ira

joel said...

While I fully appreciate your comments, there is a much less pessimistic view of the situation. My wife Joanna's blog (http://troopscoop.typepad.com/updates/) shows a side of the war not seen in the media. The more the people get to know our troops the better. The main problem seems to me to be our politicians and NATO. One of our snipers who served in the border area told me that getting permission from NATO to open fire takes 15 minutes as opposed to 10 minutes when under US command. By that time the enemy is often out of sight. -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel's wife's blog provides Afghan-Iraq updates. I get them via email daily. They provide information and wonderful photos you will never see in the media - not even on Fox News.

Joel is also correct that politicians of NATO countries have imposed impossible rules on the troops. These restrictions prevent effective and timely response.

For example, German troops are not permitted to engage in active combat missions. When hostile forces stole two tank trucks full of fuel from the area under German control, and the trucks got mired in mud, the Germans called in an airstrike on the trucks to prevent the fuel from falling into hostile hands. Unfortunately, during the time it took to get permission and stage the strike, civilians who lived in the area clustered around the tank trucks taking the free fuel. Many civilians were thus killed when the airstrike took place, which naturally upset the whole Afghan population.

Incidents like this are endemic to any major military activity. My point is that the strategic value of Afghanistan justifies only a low-level of US military presence. Just enough to protect major population centers and project UAV and other air power to disrupt and destroy terrorist training bases.

Ira Glickstein

JohnS said...

While I can and will probably comment further, Joel's and your comments, as does the current issue of Time, reinforce my argument. Let's get out of Afghanistan and for that matter elsewhere in the World. I am not an isolationist but I also don’t believe we should be nanny to the world.

joel said...

Sorry, John, but I can't imagine a better definition of being an isolationist. The rest of the world is there and we have to deal with it or suffer the consequences of our neglect. -Joel

JohnS said...

According to my dictionary isolationism is avoidance of international relations. A government policy based on the belief that national interests are best served by avoiding economic and political alliances with other countries.

I’ll try again; I am not arguing that we should sever economic or political ties. Other than North Korea, no nation can sever ties with other nations, especially we Americans. I am arguing one point and one point only. Fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and other places is a no win solution. It is a no win solution economically and in American lives. I am arguing that we can protect ourselves more effectively and economically against terrorism here at home than in foreign nations.

To clarify the point further, I am not against cooperating with other nations with troops and funds to fight terrorism in other lands; however, I must emphasize cooperation rather than what I perceive is happening today where we assume the leadership role and provide the overwhelming number of troops and funds. We have chosen these as our wars with limit assistance from other nations.

Ira Glickstein said...

According to this AP Story, President Obama will approve only a modest increase in troop levels in Afghanistan.

This is basically what I favor as suggested earlier this month:

"...I have come to the conclusion the US should not greatly increase troop strength now. We should revert to the previous Bush administration policy of a 'light footprint' that defends key population centers and uses mainly airborne strikes to prevent the Taliban and whatever remnants of Al Queda remain in Afghanistan from making too much progress. ... Afghanistan, especially now that we have unmanned air vehicles capable of pinpoint attacks, should be addressed mostly with remote airpower. I believe VP Biden has been advocating a position similar to mine and that Obama will eventually accept that policy."

Some time between Nov 7-11, Obama is expected to approve around half of what Gen. McChrystal requested.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

I’m afraid there is no good answer to Afghanistan. One should take Matthew Hoh’s opinion seriously because of his years of experience, and because other military experts have resigned for the same reasons. Read Hoh’s letter of resignation. What’s wrong with his argument? One thing for sure, whatever Obama decides, the Republicans will say he is wrong.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, thanks for posting a link to Matthew Hoh's letter of resignation, I had not read it in detail before. He correctly sums up the situation in Afghanistan. Despite the blood of British and Russian soldiers for a century before us, it will remain so for decades more no matter what we do.

In Hoh's words: the "urban, modern and secular of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional." The former being the Westernized government in Kabul and a few other major centers and the latter being the Pastun insurgency.

President Obama has called the Afghan war a "war of necessity" in contrast to what he considers the unnecessary war in Iraq. He has not defined "How necessary?" His delay in approving, denying, or partially approving the troop request of his hand-picked general indicates he still does not know.

As I have written in this blog, I consider Afghanistan, because it has no oil or other important resources, to be of secondary importance. We cannot "win" but we must not allow Al Queda or other terrorist training camps to be rebuilt. For me, the answer is the one chosen by the former administration: Keep Afghanistan on a slow simmer with minimal loss of American and allied blood. Support the Westernized urban/modern/secular elements and, to the extent possible, leave the Pashtun insurgency alone. Prevent rebuilding of terrorist training camps by Special Forces and use Unmanned Air Vehicles for most remote intelligence and attack.

That policy does not require more troops, or, at most 10-20,000, which is what VP Biden (and I) have suggested for weeks.

I do not understand why you have concluded: "One thing for sure, whatever Obama decides, the Republicans will say he is wrong." The current critique is that he is delaying the decision unnecessarily. When he eventually approves 10-20,000 additional troops he will get much more opposition from the American left than from the right.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, said, “There is a middle ground and the Bush "light footprint" policy in Afghanistan was on the right track.”

I don’t think this is historically correct. Ira should be crediting Bush with recognizing that the light footprint was the wrong track, finally firing Rumsfeld and no longer listening to Cheney and the gang of neo-conservatives that got him into a counterproductive “nation-building” Iraq war.

“Light footprint” was Rumsfeld’s policy. He argued that the improved firepower and accuracy of munitions delivered by air had made the “boots-on-the-ground” less important. The U.S. could rely on indigenous ground forces to hold the enemy in place while U.S. airpower was used as a hammer to defeat opposing forces. He did foresee the rise of terrorist insurgency provoked by this strategy.

Frederick W. Kagan is one of the intellectual supporters of Petraeus and the (at least temporarily) successful "surge" strategy in Iraq. He is author of the 2007 report Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq and a former Professor of Military History at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Kagan says, “The ‘small footprint’ approach in Afghanistan and Iraq has led to disaster. In Afghanistan, the failure to complete the defeat of the Taliban through a significant occupation has allowed it to regroup. The Taliban poses a significant insurgent challenge once again, and Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government no longer appears resilient.
In Iraq, the ‘small footprint’ used in major combat operations clearly facilitated the rise of the insurgency. The slavish adherence to the [Rumsfeld’s] doctrine of a small footprint and putting the Iraqis in the lead on internal security has led to disaster. American forces were never allowed to establish security in Iraq and efforts to turn responsibility over to an unprepared and predominantly Shiite Iraqi military added to that failure.” [from Kagan’s article New Thinking, Old Realities in American Enterprise Institute Outlook Series.]

The AEI is a neo-conservative think tank whose influential members lead Bush into the Iraq war. These members include John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz, who are now reduced to criticizing Obama for agreeing with Bush’s that we were on the wrong track.

Bob Gates, Rumsfeld’s much more highly regarded replacement as Secretary of Defense, has scrapped Rumsfeld’s program and has jumped wholeheartedly into developing forces and technology for counterinsurgency warfare following the advice of Petraeus.

Ira says, “For me, the answer is the one chosen by the former administration: Keep Afghanistan on a slow simmer with minimal loss of American and allied blood.” Whose administration policy is this?

What evidence or military expert supports a slow simmer? How long does Ira think we will have money or patience to support a “slow simmer”? The problem that Hoh points out is that the insurgency justifies its mission by the mere presence of any US military forces occupying their land. Slow simmer isn’t going to calm this religion-based hatred that goes back centuries and has “seemingly infinite” local tribal support.

Howard Pattee said...

Correction: Rumsfeld did not foresee the rise of terrorist insurgency provoked by this strategy.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard is correct that Rumsfeld/Bush did not provide sufficient troops at the start of the Iraq war, ignoring Gen. Shinseki's call for hundreds of thousands more. No one knows for sure, but if we had sufficient numbers for a full occupation, overall casualties may have been fewer and the war shorter.

But, Afghanistan is not Iraq and never will be. As Matthew Hoh says in your link, much of the population is rural, religious, illiterate, and traditional, supporting the Pashtun insurgency, which is in sharp contrast to the Iraqi population. Also, as I pointed out, Iraq has lots of oil, in contrast to Afghanistan.

Looking at a Wikipedia graph of Coalition casualties in Afghanistan, the maximum month from 2001 through 2005 was 14 and the minimum 1, averaging around 5. During that time, the Taliban was forced out of major population centers and millions of girls were able to go to school. In 2008 and 2009, as foreign fighters were forced out of Iraq by the surge, they moved to Afghanistan and casualties soared. In 2009 there have been four months with 70 or more casualties.

I have been clear in my opinion in support of VP Biden's recommendation. President Obama should and probably will decline Gen. McChrystal's request for 40,000 and provide only half or fewer. We should not leave any time soon, but a major counter-insurgency operation is not required in Afghanistan. Special Forces and Unmanned Air Vehicles are far more capable and plentiful now than they were five or ten years ago.

You have rehashed and critiqued the past, which can be useful, but you have not stated your opinion of what we should do in the near future.

As recently as three months ago, Obama said of Afghanistan: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity, ... Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."

What is your opinion of what Obama should do in this "War of necessity"?

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

What should we do to reduce the probability of terrorist attacks? My opinion is based on a long-range historical view of military efforts to control religion-based conflicts. All scripture-based religions have conservative (literal, strict) and liberal (interpretive, adaptable) components, and it is the inflexible conservative faiths that are perceived as a threat by the established governments that all maintain power by military force. Having little military power, they become the terrorists.

It is also a historically fact that military force has rarely succeeded in eliminating a conservative religion-based uprising. On the contrary, military force has only served to test their faith and commitment as well to induce converts. Jews, Christians and Muslims all began as small defenseless communities and have for centuries suffered continual attempts at military extinction from the most powerful empires. They have only gained strength, and in the case of Christianity and Islam even replaced these empires. This had the unhappy result that these religions began fighting crusades with their own military forces, which again changed no religious beliefs.

Today, Islamic sects are the most rapidly growing religions throughout the less developed world including the Middle East, Africa, Eastern India, Southeast Asia, and much of South America. There is nothing special about Afghanistan. All of these countries are potential havens for anti-US terrorists. Terrorist groups already exist in many of them. America has its own species of racist, skin-heads, and fanatic terrorists.

The Koran, like Jewish and Christian scriptures, obviously has many interpretations producing conflicting sects, but the threat of a non-Islamic enemy occupying Islamic land by military force is widely accepted as justification for war or jihad in all Islamic countries. (Actually, this is quite consistent with Augustine’s criterion for a just Christian war.)

Bin Laden’s justification for attacking the US was just that ― our military forces based in Arabia. His stated strategy was to draw us into an endless war that would bankrupt us. We now appear to be in just such a war, a war that did not focus on bin Laden, but that has only increased the alienation and potential threat of hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not even agree with bin Laden!

Therefore, the only long range stable strategy to reduce Islamic terrorism is a clearly-stated US policy to draw down all our military forces in Islamic countries (of course at a rate consistent with their safety). I don’t see the threat of oil embargoes as serious. Much worse is the threat to the US from unstable countries with nuclear weapons, like N. Korea and Pakistan, but this is not reduced by the US military forces occupying Islamic countries next door.

Intelligence about terrorists is far more important. Actually, we have far too many bases throughout the world that do very little but make their hosts nervous. We must rely much more on covert actions based on intelligence. There is tension between secrecy and transparency in a democracy, but oversight by a nonpartisan group can reduce the danger of political misuse of private information. Intelligence requires cooperation by countries like Russia and China and this requires diplomacy.

In my opinion, armed unmanned remote-controlled drones are not the answer. They are just another problem. Everyone is developing them, and their increased use will eventually generate more hatred and provocation than they are worth. All fighters have an ethical system that includes courage, whether you agree their goals or not. Unmanned drones will be viewed as the ultimate cowardly weapon.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, you have not said how the President should decide on his General's request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan: Yes? No? Partial? What? (I say partial.)

That aside, I agree with the facts in your first five paragraphs.

But, in your sixth paragraph, you say "Therefore, the only long range stable strategy to reduce Islamic terrorism is a clearly-stated US policy to draw down all our military forces in Islamic countries (of course at a rate consistent with their safety)." (I assume by "their" you are referring to the safety of our military forces and not the safety of the governments in those Islamic countries.)

In the next paragraph, you say we have "far too many" foreign bases. In your final paragraph you come out against the use of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) as unethical and cowardly.

So you recommend a draw down of all our forces in Islamic countries, a large reduction in foreign bases, and no UAVs. The only positive recommendation you make is "We must rely much more on covert actions based on intelligence."

I have no idea how we can support foreign intelligence activities nor how we can effectively stage covert actions without foreign bases and without unmanned spy systems. Please explain.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira says, “I have no idea how we can support foreign intelligence activities nor how we can effectively stage covert actions without foreign bases and without unmanned spy systems.”
Ira wants me to explain.

First, Ira, I suggest you watch more James Bond movies! Then you should read about MI6 and the Russian SVR.

I am not an expert on spying, but it does not sound like SVR and MI6 spies operate out of military bases. I doubt if the US is different. Every imaginable source is used for intelligence-gathering: embassies, travel agencies, communication systems, satellites, drones, the Internet, businesses, universities, friends and families.

Of course we need foreign bases, but not 500 of them, and not in Islamic countries where their mere presence generates a continuous supply of terrorists.

I said I doubted that armed unmanned drones are the answer. Aerial surveillance is here to stay, but assassination by remote control will become a popular sport when these armed drones becomes readily available to the terrorists.

As I stated, this is my reasoned long-term strategic policy. How it is executed day to day should obviously be left up to the generals on the ground.

Ira Glickstein said...

President Obama has just ordered 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan to help secure Khandahar and other population centers. During and subsequent to the Presidential campaign he called it a "war of necessity".

Back on Oct 31, Howard wrote: "One thing for sure, whatever Obama decides, the Republicans will say he is wrong."

On Nov 02, I (Ira) wrote: "When he eventually approves 10-20,000 additional troops he will get much more opposition from the American left than from the right."

I was low on the number, but Sen. McCain has already stated his approval and the Democratic left its opposition.

Unlike many Republicans, I don't think we should invest too much in Afghanistan because it has no oil and little strategic value. IMHO, we need to stay there for the long haul, but with limited goals. We should not worry too much about political corruption. We are not the mother of the world.

I hope and pray Obama's plan for Afghanistan succeeds. As soon as possible, let us step up the use of Unmanned Air Vehicles. Let us reduce troops on the ground to an absolue minimum and keep casualties low.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Back last October, in No OIL In Afghanistan, I wrote:

"...I have come to the conclusion the US should not greatly increase troop strength now [in Aghanistan]. ... [We should defend] key population centers and [use] mainly airborne strikes to prevent the Taliban and whatever remnants of Al Queda remain in Afghanistan from making too much progress. ...

"Iraq, a strategic source of oil, required both boots on the ground and airpower. Afghanistan, especially now that we have unmanned air vehicles capable of pinpoint attacks, should be addressed mostly with remote airpower. I believe VP Biden has been advocating a position similar to mine and that Obama will eventually accept that policy."


John objected to my suggestion and listed ten reasons not to continue the fight in Afghanistan but rather to emphasize homeland security.

Joel, less pessimistic, suggested we need to streamline the NATO permission process for more timely response by our troops.

Howard questioned the ethics of use of unmanned vehicles: "In my opinion, armed unmanned remote-controlled drones are not the answer. They are just another problem. Everyone is developing them, and their increased use will eventually generate more hatred and provocation than they are worth. All fighters have an ethical system that includes courage, whether you agree their goals or not. Unmanned drones will be viewed as the ultimate cowardly weapon."

This evening ABC News devoted a great deal of time to the seemingly very effective and careful use of unmanned attack vehicles in Afghanistan. I congratulate President Obama and his military advisors for coming to the correct tactical and strategic decisions.

Do you consider this decision cowardly, Howard?

Ira Glickstein

PS: Full disclosure, over ten years ago, I participated in some conceptual work on unmanned combat aircraft.

Howard Pattee said...

Ira’s “reasoning” seems to me to be just a restatement of the Bush administration’s belligerent policy which is a continuing disaster. Against the advice of all the experts who understand Islam, bin Laden, and the Taliban, the Bush policy has effectively set us in a religious war against more than half the world. What motivates the terrorists is foreign occupation. According to the Koran that is an explicit justification for jihad. All the analyses I have found, from the United Nations to the Pentagon agree that this is the basic cause of terrorism and the hatred of the US.

What can a “small footprint” mean anyway? If China had a base like Bagram AFB just north of Washington would we call that a “small footprint” even if there were no Chinese troops anywhere else? If the Villages had unmanned Chinese drones flying overhead just doing reconnaissance, would you think of that as a “small footprint”? We know we have to negotiate with the Chinese because they are bigger than we are. Bush thought we could bully the Islamic terrorists with force, but that was a big mistake. Military force has never conquered a religious faith.

What oil is our military protecting? Oil lines are easy to control and sabotage. These countries have to sell the oil even if they own all of it. The market is competitive. So the price goes up to $5 as it is in Europe. That might be the only way to get Americans to conserve energy. Anyway, it is less costly that the trillions spent on our military forces making more foreign enemies.

Given we have been misled into this disastrous situation, I agree that we can't abruptly leave without trying to stabilize this region. Obama hopes we can begin withdrawing in a year, but what happens if things get worse?

Ira Glickstein said...

OK Howard, I understand your position and you have stated it quite clearly in the past and again in your most recent Comment. You believe that any presence of US forces on Muslim soil, or even unmanned air vehicles overflying, justifies jihad according to the Koran, so there is no such thing as "a light footprint".

As part of the US response to the first Iraq war, Bush #1 placed some US forces on Saudi soil and that is reportedly what set bin Laden off and, a decade later, 9/11.

All of the above is factual. I fully understand and respect your opinions. On the other hand, I think Bush #1 was right to oppose Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and he did get Saudi permission to station the US forces there as part of the response. I also think Bush #2 (and Tony Blair) were right to depose Saddam in the second Iraq war to help protect vital sources of petroleum. We can argue these points forever, with mutual respect, and not reach a unified conclusion.

However, what is your opinion of President Obama's recent step-up in use of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) as I predicted he would? I congratulate him his UAV decision. However, it puzzles me that he would approve using UAVs for killing suspected terrorists and innocent civilians in Afghan and Pakistani camps without trial at the same time he is transfering enemy combatants to civil courts and giving them the full benefit of legal protection. The only reason for the latter that I can think of is that he wants to use that forum to critique the actions of the Bush #2 administration and thereby improve Democratic chances in the upcoming elections.

What do you think?

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira asks me what I think of Obama’s transferring enemy combatant to civil courts. The only reason that Ira can think of is a conservative’s cynical view, “that he wants to use that forum to critique the actions of the Bush #2 administration and thereby improve Democratic chances in the upcoming elections.”

I can come up with a liberal's reason: Obama obeys the law.

Congress addressed these issues in the Military Commissions Act of 2006, so that enemy combatants and unlawful enemy combatants might be tried under military commissions, however on 12 June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled, in Boumediene v. Bush, that Guantanamo Bay captives were entitled to access the US justice system, and that the military commissions as constituted under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 fell short of what was required of a court under the United States constitution.

Howard Pattee said...

Of course I agree with Ira that this discussion will not lead to our agreement. That’s not why I respond to his posts. (I have never been able to change Ira’s mind!) Somebody has to present another view if the blog is to be “fair and balanced.” My idea of an interesting blog is just the presentation of many views, from which we might learn more than just one persons opinion. So here are a few facts and questions about our current wars that make me skeptical about its probability of success.

In a BBC interview 9/11/08 Gen David Petraeus said that he will never “declare victory [in Iraq],” and that recent security gains were "not irreversible." The US still faces a "long struggle.”

Thomas Ricks in his latest book The Gamble (follow up on Fiasco says, “At the end of 2008, two years into the revamped war, there was no prospect of the fighting ending anytime soon. But it was almost certain that whenever it did end, it wouldn't be with the victory that the Bush administration continued to describe, of an Iraq that was both a stable democracy and an ally of the United States. Nor was that really the goal anymore, though no one had said so publicly. Under Petraeus, the American goal of transforming Iraq had quietly been scaled down. But even his less ambitious target of sustainable security would remain elusive, with no certainty of reaching it anytime soon.”

The cost of the Iraq war is now over $700 billion and Ricks predicts that the US will have combat troops in Iraq until at least 2015. How long in Afghanistan nobody knows.

In Afghanistan the United States is spending about $3.6 billion per month (Congressional Research Service). Their 2009 population estimate is 28,150,000, so our war spending amounts to $1536 per Afghan per year. That’s well over three times the GDP of Afghanistan which is only 12 billion per year. (This comes to only $425 per person per year.) Is this war the most effective way to spend a trillion dollars with no end in sight?

Polls show that most Iraqis and Afghans just want us to go home. What is the point of this war? What difference will an undeveloped Afghanistan make when a nuclear Iran and Pakistan remain unstable and the terrorist groups move to Yemen, Somalia, or wherever?

Howard Pattee said...

One additional note to support my statement that our military presence is the problem, not the answer. I just read this in the NY Times:

A group of influential religious leaders in Yemen has threatened to declare jihad — holy war — if foreign troops intervene to stem the spread of al-Qaeda in the country. The edict is a clear warning to the United States as it plans to step up its military involvement in the country.

The 150 leaders said, “If any party insists on aggression, or invades the country, then according to Islam, jihad becomes obligatory,” Don't think they are bluffing.

Ira Glickstein said...

I value your thoughtful contributions to this Blog Howard because I really want the views expressed here to be diverse. I would like more from you and Stu and Joel and John and Rick and Steve and others whose thinking diverges from mine in a rational way. And, you are capable of changing my opinions - when we first met I was a raving lunatic in my belief in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life and, over several years, you made me a bit less sanguine and even a bit skeptical.

Yes, in 2006, the Supreme Court struck down President Bush's 2001 military order regarding military commissions. They gave Bush some options, including: "...operate the commissions by the rules of regular military courts-martial, or ask Congress for specific permission to proceed differently..." The Supreme Court definitely did not require the military commissions to be shut down completely as the new administration seems to be doing.

Attorney General Holder knows that, and the only reason he is moving the trial of the 9/11 mastermind and others to New York is to create a forum for political revenge against the previous administration and their policies. I have no idea why he allowed the underwear bomber to lawyer up and clam up before military intelligence got him to reveal what he knows about his trainers and the dozens of future suicide bombers in the pipeline.

In any case, you have not given your opinion of the greatly stepped-up use of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to kill suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and probably Yemen without trial. I congratulated President Obama on his wise decision in this matter. What say you?

As for the definition of victory or the end of the war against extreme Islamic terrorism, I have no illusions. Since I am not running for political office, I do not have to claim the purpose is to set up Jeffersonian Democracies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. I do not have to claim the war will end any time soon.

The strategic imperative is to protect sources of petroleum and prevent Pakistani nukes from falling under terrorist control. I think we can do that with minimum boots on the ground and resultant loss of American lives, and maximum use of Special Forces and UAVs and advanced technology.

Presidential rhetoric about representative government in those regions is a tactic. Only after effective democracy is established in Chicago (i.e., never) do we need to worry about other countries except as a tactic.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Perhaps in the short term UAV drones may slow the Taliban down, but in the long run the consequences do not look good. Will we begin using drones for assassination of heads of state we don’t like?

Petraeus has said about Iraq and Afghanistan, "military victory is not possible." By this he means that in the long run minds must be changed, not just terrorists killed.

Petraeus believes that Greg Mortenson’s (Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools) educational approach is the only long-term solution, but Petraeus is a general and must face the short time frame of American politics. Mortenson says, “I have always been dismayed by the West’s failure ― or unwillingness ― to recognize that establishing secular schools that offer children a balanced and non-extremist education is the cheapest and most effective way of combating [the Taliban].”

Of course the Saudis have known this for years, and have spent billions on Wahabi madrassas changing minds throughout the Middle East. They are protecting their power (and ironically also our oil supply). Their long-range educational strategy has put the extremists from which terrorists arise far ahead us. Our missile-firing drones only kill, but they change minds exactly the wrong way.

In November Pakistan President Zardari told Gen David Petraeus that "Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counterproductive and difficult to explain [for] a democratically elected government. It is creating a credibility gap.” These missile attacks continually add to the number of newly recruited insurgents with al Qaida and the Taliban.